My Introduction To One Singapore Secondary School & An Exam With True Consequences

I visited my first school placement today, Beatty Secondary School in Singapore. Freddy Loke, my assigned Academy of Singapore Teachers (AST) buddy was with me from the start of my bus journey to assist me in my travels. We took a few pictures to mark my first day of school attendance and capture our good moods.

My abbreviated day began with a short tour of the school which serves approximately 1200 students. Principal Ling Khoon Chow welcomed me, as did Vice Principal Lim Soon Wai and a leadership team of teachers. We took a brief tour of the school and I had the opportunity to walk the halls and pay a visit to one class taking place in a ‘Maker Space’. To clarify, a ‘Maker Space’ is a collaborative workspace inside a school for making, learning, exploring, and sharing. As we entered the room the students stood to face us and Mr. Lim gave verbal instructions how to address me, and in unison, they said, “Good morning Dr. Powell, Principal, and teachers.” Mr. Lim instructed the students to continue working and they went back to their groups. In the back of my head, I wondered with a smile if I could possibly replicate this greeting and quick following of directions in my classroom back in California.

In the ‘Maker Space’ I watched high school students working collaboratively to problem solve identified issues in their school. The desks were in quads and the students moved around freely during class interaction. This set up was quite different then the rows of desks I had seen in classrooms earlier on my walking tour.  

The highlight of my day was the privilege of witnessing an assembly to announce the release of the 2018 GCE O Level results. The results of this exam have a major influence on the trajectory of studies a student qualifies to pursue, and as such the assembly was well attended by parents, students, and faculty. I was curious as the US has no such national exam to test the academic competence of 16-year-olds, nor does California have any standardized test taken in high schools that impacts a student’s academic path following graduation. Knowing the importance of this test and the impact it has, I wanted to witness the result release.

First, Principal Ling welcomed the assembly and reviewed the agenda. He stated, “This is an important juncture in your lives journey,” highlighting the importance of the results of this exam and the implications attached to the scores. He called attention to the documents students would receive in their results packet. Next, he reviewed school-wide results in comparison to last year; Beatty Secondary School increased their pass rate for all GCE O levels compared to 2017. The audience cheered as he showed the data on a PowerPoint screen in the front of the room. The finale came when students were called up to receive their score packets. There were a lot of smiles, a few tears, but overall parents and students seemed pleased with the results. On hand were counselors in the event a student had a hard time accepting their scores.

Students were mixing and mingling in the auditorium following the assembly and I had the opportunity to casually ask a few students how they had performed. Fortunately, I was situated in the corner of the assembly where students who scored ‘with distinction’ were asked to congregate for a photo op, so I knew they had done well. The two boys I asked were both humble in their responses saying they did “All right.” I asked them if they were proud of their scores and they both said that they thought so. I have included a few pictures below of the school and the assembly. It might be interesting to note that the top performers on the exams were listed alphabetically by name on the PowerPoint, and no overall scores were published. I was told this was mandated by the Ministry of Education (MOE) to put less emphasis on numerical points earned.

I’m looking forward to spending more time meeting teachers and getting to know students at Beatty. 

*The Singapore-Cambridge General Certificate of Education Ordinary ‘O’ Level examination is a national examination held annually in Singapore. The exams are taken by students in their fourth year of high school (Express Stream) or fifth year (Normal Academic stream).



Touchdown in Singapore

18 hours and 32 minutes after leaving Los Angeles airport I arrived safely in Singapore. The flight was long but manageable, especially since the crowded plane was packed, with the exception of the seat next to mine- SCORE!

After navigating customs and baggage claim at Changi airport, I promptly got a new SIM card & local phone number and purchased an EZLink card for public transit use on the MRT, LRT and buses.

My hotel, Fragrance Waterfront, is located near the National University of Singapore and after waking up at 4 am with jet lag, I decided to go on a run and explore.

It was pretty dark out but I was impressed by the behemoth buildings, impeccable landscaping, the sports hall, and amenities. Grabbed a picture of this snack machine as I thought it offered some scrumptious food choices.

Running home I smelled incense in the air and during my cool down I saw small ornate alters burning in the foyers of business and homes. A wonderful way to be reminded of all I am thankful for.

A Lancer Forever

Thank you, Thousand Oaks High School Special Education Dept. I am grateful for the opportunity to work with such dedicated teaching professionals. Thousand Oaks High School is a fantastic place to be a part of and my Fulbright research is in large part due to the support of staff members, administration, and the amazing teachers and paraprofessionals that are the Special Education team.

The beautiful necklace will be a reminder of the students and staff, and all the encouragement that made my educational inquiry in Singapore possible. Thanks, and Selamat Tinggal.

Old School Marbles & 21 Century Students

I was recently trying to come up with new ideas of how to teach my students the precursors of the Revolutionary War. We had already labored over the long list of intolerable acts, taxation without representation, the Boston Massacre, and the famous tea party. Great stuff, but the information was flat and dry and I wanted more than anything for my students to get as excited as I was about the content.

In my attempt to get them engaged in the curriculum, I knew I had to get them up & moving. Well, the battles between the Patriots and the British during the Revolution was a fantastic opportunity to flesh out strategies used by the opposing sides of the conflict. Students had a great time strategizing, assessing, collaborating, and having fun in mock battles.

Old school marbles, game boards, strategizing and teamwork made for an amazing learning opportunity.

The Patriots Won!

Mass Murder, Fire, and the Power of Pictionary

Early Thursday morning, I rolled over in bed to silence my alarm. I checked my phone and saw I had an international text from my daughter serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa. I was hoping for reassuring information related to her safety, and the safe return of 80 school children abducted just two days prior in a northern region of Cameroon. The text read-only, “What is happening in Thousand Oaks?” Assuming she wanted to hear about events taking place locally, I quickly shot back a text saying a new Dave and Busters was being built in town.

It was at this point that automated texts began to populate my phone and interrupt my texting. I read warnings about road closures and canceled classes at the local university. As I started to wake up and connect the bits of information, I saw news coverage on a mass murder that had taken place hours earlier in the city of Thousand Oaks. I sat transfixed watching news outlets and trying to make sense of what I was seeing on TV and reading online. 13 dead as a result of an attack at a local bar on college night. Time stood still, yet the clock advanced, and questions from local parents started saturating social media and neighborhood sites; was it safe to send their children to school? Was school canceled altogether? I got dressed and headed out to Thousand Oaks High School; where I have taught for the past 12 years.

School staff met in the library at 7:45 am for a brief meeting called by our principal. He addressed the tragedy, and let staff speak. He unified us before our classrooms filled with students. As a high school teacher, I have multiple classes in a day. I had the opportunity to spend the day with over 80 students. My classes were mostly full, some empty chairs, but so many students were in attendance. During our allotted class time, we spoke of community, and they asked questions. Some students shared how they found out about the mass killings, or how they were related to a victim or a survivor. I relayed my sorrow that our town had experienced such a loss, and there were side conversations between peers. I told them all I was thankful they came to school on this day.

Students played Pictionary in my classes. Mostly because it is fun and a game in which all students participate, and laughter is a byproduct of scribbles on the whiteboard. Students were communicating instead of their faces transfixed on their phone screens. Teamwork and collaboration filled the space. It was a long day. Each new class of students bought different sets of questions, and my emotional resolve was waning towards the end of the day. I had cried several times, gave and received hugs from friends and colleagues. I reassured students again and again that Thousand Oaks is a safe place to live and we are a strong community.

When the last school bell rang, I was preparing my classroom for Friday’s lessons, when a text came in accompanied by a picture from Jeff, “Get home.” The image was of the house with smoke in the background. I rushed home in thick traffic, driving into black smoke. Arriving in the driveway, I found out we were being evacuated because of fire in our local area. We began loading our cars, trying to decide what was worthy of saving should the house burn down. With our vehicles full, we pulled away from the house.

As of today, fire is still raging, and we are still under evacuation. Schools have been canceled for today. A lot has transpired over the last 48 hours. I am still grappling with the magnitude of the events, all of them, and their impact on myself, my family, my students, and my town. Interestingly, only days prior I had been so worried about my own daughter’s safety. She was now telling me that she feels safer abroad, in a country where armed secessionists brazenly abducted teenaged students in an attack. It is interesting how you begin to normalize traumatic events. My daughter has every reason to worry about her community back home.

I want healing to take place, and I know Thousand Oaks will serve as an example to others in our country of a community pulling together in difficult times. I am exhausted, I am scared, and I am hopeful. I will be back at school on Monday ready to teach.

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I will be at school ready to teach again on Monday.